Tag Archives: communication

Online dating is not happy, but it is fascinating – part one

Well here I am nearly 3 years later in a strikingly familiar place. A significant other leaves for their home country, on relatively good terms, and I’m single again. The “girlfriend shield” that enables me to be my normal “unlimited-friendly” high-energy self is gone and I’m readily annoyed at the prospect of bottling up my emotions to not scare people off. My friends group is of course dissipating and I’m not at the top of anyone’s list to hang out with anymore… and I can’t complain about that because historically I’m the one making the list. A popular Oatmeal post on the falsity of happiness as a dichotomous state compelled me to write again.

By Matthew Inman (2016)

By Matthew Inman (2016)

Anyway this post isn’t so much about my happiness, that’s been going up and down (which is good?) more than usual but I’ll be fine. Nope this one is about psuedo-social-science observations of ICT-mediated-communication-dysfunction!

Last time I tried online dating I quickly became frustrated with sending out dozens of messages and never receiving any responses or having anyone seek me out to initiate conversation. The one date that came out of it revealed a lot of what online chat can’t reveal so I quit it and found someone in real-life and it was great. This time around, after considerable insistence by friends and my sister that online dating has changed and can really work, I’m giving it a go.

AND OH MAN IS IT SUPER NEATO BUT STILL HOPELESSLY DYSFUNCTIONAL!

I’ve complained about this stuff in the past, but the difference is this time I’m going to use real live examples from my actual life. Yep, I’m still fearlessly (able-white-male-privilegely?) my open self. I figured if I’m going to do this I’m going to do this, so I jumped into several systems (in order, overlapping: OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, Bumble, Tinder), made consistent profiles and started interacting. I used my actual name as my username (JeffGinger) and wrote robust (but not too long?) descriptions that made it easy to identify me and get an idea of who I think I am. I already knew this was a mistake – honesty and lack of mysteriousness + emotive qualities (stoic dudes are the stock-light attraction go-to) – but this is who I am.

By the Numbers

To get a sense of my activity: I’ve been one these things for two weeks, sent probably 20 messages, gotten 5 responses and had 5 people initiate conversation with me. I’ve been looking for people ages 24 (had to bump it down to get results, originally 25) to 35 (also bumped it down, originally 38). I have yet to go out on a date, but that’s not my current metric of success.

BloNo is way hotter than CU

The first thing I noticed is just how small the dating pool is if you limit it to a town like CU (25 mile radius in my case). On OKCupid I’d get just a handful of options, mostly–yes I’m a horrible, shallow person for saying this–overweight and/or unattractive women. This is half of what had killed me the first time through. SO this time I set my radius to the maximum distance I’d be willing to drive regularly (an hour, includes several cities nearby) and BAM everything changed.

CU has a very transient population. My impression (speculation) is that most of the single people my age (32) here are grad students or international and it is very easy to meet people in face-to-face life (I’ve been doing this successfully for over a decade here). Online dating therefore becomes the resort for the desperate. It’s also freakily familiar. About one out of every 15 people local was someone I recognized (many current or former GSLIS) and might see occasionally. What do you do with that? You both know the other is there, right? Click on their profile and say hi? Avoid them religiously? I’ve found no good solution, but this time, like last time I ran into the issue, talking to one of them resulted in no response and even more awkwardness.

Anyway when I broadened the scope, and jumped into sites like Plenty of Fish everything grew exponentially. Bloomington-Normal has ISU, which specializes in education, and many moderate-size companies so there are lots of late-twenties + early-thirties women there. Other places, like Danville, Mattoon, Decatur or Indiana have many more women with some college or associates degrees and single moms or divorcees. Working at the Fab Lab has helped me to understand education level isn’t a great predictor of passion and emotional intelligence (very important to me) so the sheer diversity of this has been an outstanding discovery. I really don’t want to date other people with PhD’s – they’re usually not in my culture.

Bumble, by the way, which I think works great in Chicago with 100 times more people, has been a total failure. I haven’t been even matched to someone on it, much less had a conversation. I run out of profiles to review in just a few swipes. I really love the idealized feminist form of ladies lead, but I think the social norms are still too broken for it to work outside of big cities. Tinder, on the other hand – which I am not using to ‘hook up’ and has many more users in this area – has resulted in women initiating messages with me.

What is it to be polite?

If I walk up to someone in-person and say “Hi, how are you doing? My name is Jeff, pleased to meet you” they will almost certainly answer. Online-dating makes even these sorts of interactions optional but this is nothing new and I’m not bothered by it anymore. I’ve personally decided that anyone, regardless of how attractive they are to me, who messages me with a reasonable message deserves a response. But I have been failing a lot. Here’s one specific exchange:

Them: Your profile sounds really really interesting. I am a grad of [school] with my bachelors. I’m going to [school] this semester so I’m really busy, but I’d like to know are you interested in me maybe hanging out with your friends with volleyball?

Me: Well, I don’t know that I’d be interested romantically, but you’re certainly welcome to come join us on Wednesday evenings for volleyball. 6:30p at the sand courts, Stadium and Oak in Champaign.

Them: What turns you away? You are not the first to say that to me. I don’t think I want to play volleyball now.

Me: Sorry, I know my message probably seemed a little curt – I just don’t want to give off any false impressions or lead anyone on. I haven’t used an online dating system in years and have no sense for the etiquette. I guess the norm is people just ignore one another a lot, but you sent a reasonable message and I felt it would be rude to not answer. Truthfully I don’t think my evaluations should matter very much to you, I don’t think you should feel self-conscious because one random guy says he isn’t interested. It’s okay to forget me and move on. I do hope you can find someone!

As you can see, not great. Being up-front might be more honest but I really get why people just don’t answer. But I’ve also noticed that ghosting is an egregious norm, even when things are going well. One promising woman disappeared on me, we had been talking for a bit (on Facebook, she initiated) and then:

Her: Hi Jeff! I didn’t want to be a jerk, read you msg and not respond, but I just got home from work and not feeling very good. Apparently what I had for dinner tonight is not agreeing with me, so I’m going to try to head to bed. I do look forward to chatting with you tomorrow and glad I’m not creepy for finding you on fb. 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful night. 🙂

Me (next day): Hey, feeling any better?

Me (days later): Well… I’m guessing you lost interest (or maybe expected me to message more earlier?), but if not feel free to drop me a line here, I’d still be happy to talk. Either way, thanks for reaching out.

I mean we all know that food poisoning is the go-to lie for short-term evasion, but what the shit? The answer, later discovered by comparing her OkCupid description to the one on Tinder, is that she’s one inch taller than me and she won’t date shorter men. That’s okay – I’d rather be unattractive physically than have it be about my personality I suppose.

I was reminded a day later when talking to a friend/coworker that it’s not just online dating, it’s just online talking that has this problem. She and I had been vaguely talking about hanging out for a week or so, here’s the last text conversation:

Me: [name] if you’d like to go get a drink or get something to eat together tomorrow evening I’d be happy to join you. No worries if the offer is too weird or inappropriate, I totally understand.

Her: I’ve got ladies night tomorrow night 🙁 I’m sorry

Me: S’okay. I think I’m free Saturday too, if it strikes you.

For the record – and I’m pretty sure she knows this – I was not asking her out with romantic intention, but we had never purposefully hung out one-on-one as friends before. Note how much I unnecessarily had to pad this damned thing. Giving the “I understand if it’s weird” or “if it strikes you” – she never answered and never will. I’ll see her in-person and never bring it up. Because here’s the thing: she doesn’t want to actually hang out, despite saying she does in the past week. Actions speak so much louder than words. If this person wanted to see me they would say something like “Hey, I’m busy tomorrow but what about __ day” or at least “Hey, I’m busy, but I appreciate the offer and let’s make sure to figure out another time.” When I was in GSLIS I referred to this as “speaking librarian” – my shitty job is to read between the lines to understand what she means through a polite refusal followed by lack of follow-up/response is that she is not interested and I need to bugger the fuck off. This is exactly what I get annoyed with – I shouldn’t have to be so worried about scaring other people or being friendly. It makes me sad that I’m so rarely worth their time.

You are easy to identify

People may think it’s strange that I use my real name on these services. I get that women have this totally alternative world of worry about rape and safety so I’m not going to talk about being flattered by being stalked – but I am assuming people will find me on Facebook as a 3rd-party evaluation. We present our best “romantic” selves in online dating, Facebook is likely a more “real” representation, and that’s’ fine. I’ve been consistently finding that with just one or two pieces of information – a school, a job, an organization combined with a first name – I can find their Facebook profile. So far this has been good. It gives me “secret” information about who they are and what they’re into and, in one case verified they’re not a pornbot and in another helped me to understand they’re actually much more attractive than I realized. The anonymity is a lie, but it’s probably still good to have it there – if nothing else it’s a forced mysteriousness.

Single moms

On my profile I write “I’ve never dated someone with children, but I work with them all of the time and feel like I’d be open to it.”

My sister: NO NO NO. They’ll hate you like I hated our step mom! Think of how horrible I was to her! You don’t want to go through that!

Me: But most of them have kids that are like 3 to 5! They don’t even know how to hate yet!

Sister: Oh but they will! You will inspire it!

Gardening is sexy, transcendental Iowans and HOLY FUCK GIPHY

I have no idea how to garden, but thanks to my recent move to a house I have one. I started a conversation about gardening (felt like I was being about the maximum boring I could possibly be) that I didn’t expect to pan out but it was notable in her profile and I had no idea what else to go on and I feel like I can improv well. Oddly – it didn’t matter, she stayed with me and kept conversation going. I’m so awestruck when people on these sites actually give a fuck and work with you, when so few people do. I know, I know, all you hot women have a thousand suitors and it’s just too hard to care all of the time, but really I think the fastest way to make me fall for you is show a disdain for apathy. She, fetty lass, also cleverly used a pretty-but-not-too-flabbergasting-so photo of herself on her profile, I found out later that she was not only quite intelligent and well-adjusted but also quite breathtaking.

One of the best moments I’ve had yet was with a sort of hippie-idealist woman from Iowa. She’s too far away for us to reasonably date, but shot me a message asking if I was a former Mormon. Besides making me worry in an interesting way about how I make impressions on others it got us into some conversation. She was so focused on the right parts of living an emotionally and physically healthy life – it was resoundingly refreshing to read about and hear from her. We could both honestly declare attraction for one another, in-part I think because we’re both too far away to really make a real relationship out of it. I sincerely love earnest expression of emotions and self, it’s really rare. Besides this it roused an interesting possibility – she plays piano and if I could get a hold of a MIDI file from her it would be super cool to try to play with my BS soundsynth gear again to make something together. Accidental triggers of forgotten passions are also my favorite.

It occurred to me that maybe the reason I suck at this stuff is that my messages are too tame. I’ve been working on being “librarian-compatible” for so long that much of what I send is harmless-sounding and banal. It’s boring. I’ve already been doing most of the ‘right’ stuff without even thinking about it – messages related to their profile, compliments not about appearance, using their actual name, not making it too long, ending with a question, etc… but this article got me really thinking.

Make them feel something.

What a fucking cool challenge. Yes, yes I will use this as my new mantra. It’s probably going to get me into gobs of trouble and I couldn’t feel more excited about it 🙂 The latest escapade: a girl who is so outstandingly stunningly beautiful that I couldn’t believe she’s not a pornbot (verified on Facebook she’s real) matched me on Tinder. This had to be a mistake – she has two degrees in different fields, works in yet another and looks like this and actually thinks I’m attractive?? She’s into sci-fi and geeky stuff?? WHAT IS GOING ON??? So I freak out sprinting in circles knowing this will probably never turn into anything and read her little description about being unsure what to do with her life but not wanting others to tell her what to do about 15 times and respond and… here you can just read it:

Me: Your profile reminds me of an Oatmeal comic I read today – about the failures of happiness as a descriptor… how we’re never really in the permanent state.

Me: I just joined Tinder a couple of days ago so I’m figuring it out too.

Me: Anyway having just gotten out of my twenties I feel like I’ve just become more Zen with the tumult, but maybe some of us just invite it more than others.

Me: What are some of the things you’ve been having trouble figuring out about life lately?

Then an hour later still thinking about it I realized I’m an idiot and it sounds like I’m setting up to mansplain. FUCK. Desperate attempt to recover:

Me: (don’t worry I’m not asking intending to tell you what to do)

Me: (also I like the fun patterns on your clothes on Instagram. Did you make any of them?)

No response. I figure I’m fucked so what the hell, here we go. 6:30a I’m up on 1.5 hours of sleep, have to help run sessions at a conference in Peoria on the way out the door. I snap photos of some of the cool art on my walls with my “brilliant” idea:

Me: Okay. I think I’ve been doing this wrong. Please select your destination:

And here’s the part where I thought I’d be able to make a GIF out of the photos, but find out you can only use certain pre-selected compositions from Giphy:

Me: Well that’s embarrassing. It only lets you use premade GIFs. Not a virus or spam I swear – short URL http://gph.is/2bYfsuj

And I assumed my Tinder profile would be reported and deleted by the next day… but I at least found the whole episode to be really funny.

But then the unthinkable happened. SHE RESPONDED!!!!

This person who seems like she is far good to even exist acknowledges my existence?? I still have no idea if we’re actually successfully talking, but holy crap nothing has gotten me this excited or engaged in years.

THIS. THIS IS WHY I AM DOING THIS.

I will probably never get online dating to actually work for me but holy balls is it interesting as all hell. It’s also kickboxing my emotional state but I really do feel like I’m living, and that’s fucking cool.

T

I feel really compelled to mention that throughout all of this I’ve had a real friend – whom I’ve only been able to communicate with online or on the phone – who has given force-fed me hope. She wouldn’t want me to say her name but all of this complaining I’ve been doing about people sucking at caring and between-the-lines bullshit she’s listened and kept me grounded. I couldn’t be more flattered and honored to see that she cares about me so much that she’s willing to stand on soap boxes and write almost as much as I have here in this entry. Her honesty, resolve and loyalty is unrivaled and she inspires me to keep being so.

This. This is also why I do live this.

Thank you T.

Revisiting the Passive

Most people that know me well have at one point or another heard me complain about people (often women) who are ‘passive’ in damaging ways. And I still think this can happen (one of my present roommates provides a powerful example but I don’t want to waste space criticizing him), but as I’ve spent a lot of time in GSLIS, a place where extroversion is about as rare as men, social conservatives and people of color, I’ve started to gain a little perspective.

Here, for the literature review, some terrrible reading that I dragged out of the archives that will make you hate me:

So  the metric I generally operate under, when thinking about passiveness and assertiveness is a spectrum based on initiation and response. People who initiate, lead, speak up, negotiate and otherwise make themselves known through action would be assertive, people who are responsive, reactive and compromise fall in the middle as reciprocative, and people who follow and don’t alter their thoughts or activities noticeably based on social stimuli and communication are passive.

Very few people really fall into that last category, and most of those that do are probably those with more severe social disorders or conditions. Hating on shy or introverted people is stupid. I think what I’ve really been struggling with over the years has been in part people who are passive aggressive, and whether or not people are confident or positive, and these intersecting threads that are hard to tease out at times (because they’re so contextual).

Anyway this post is not about this, really.

It’s that my narrative that I clung to so desperately when I was younger, that girls are (were) passive and cause hurt because of this, is only 50% right, at best. The reason so many people have avoided me, not answered my messages, talked bad about me behind my back (I was once lucky enough to be cyberbullied at age 26 – real-time tracking making fun of my soul-crushing break up via multiple Twitter accounts established by GSLIS students) or otherwise reacted to me in passive (evasive) ways is because of who and how I am.

At best it’s that I’m weird, at worst I think it’s that I’m downright undesirable. I’m pretty convinced that if I were more attractive than I am I wouldn’t have problems with this – the handsome surprise contact is a flattering secret admirer, the ugly one is a creep, so to say. But, generally, I think people find me annoying. Since I’m so frequently an initiator people probably assume that I’ll just be fine if they forget about me – afterall, they likely assume they’re probably just one minimal contact amongst hundreds (I’m 1400 Facebook friends cool, right?). And that’s shit, really, because I took the time to make the effort to do reach out to them, which shouldn’t be dismissed, but it is, all the freaking time.

I sent out gifts in the mail to approximately 50 friends this past Christmas, a spread of variety of folk of different genders. About 25% responded or acknowledged in some way or another and there was no discernible difference between men and women. Keep in mind, I’m not bitter about this, I didn’t expect responses, and I encouraged people to continue the positive event chain in their own lives. In fact I still owe responses to some of them (sorry Alicia and Matt!). What I want to emphasize is that it’s not so much that girls are passive, it’s that people don’t have time for this shit. I have to come to grips with not being worth their time.

If I think back over people that I’ve found annoying in my life, I think the only one I’ve gone to lengths to avoid or not react to is my mother. I’m terrified of becoming her – so very out of touch and untold levels of obnoxious. Now, in my world of self-imposed isolation as a miserable attempt to finish a dissertation, the second a friend reaches out to me they’re greeted with overwhelming verbal vomit, like this blog post. And no one wants that. If Tom Fairbank, my sister and a few others weren’t immune to me I’d probably have given up long ago.

Anyway I don’t know if I have that much of a point to saying all of this, other than acknowledging to the world that, yes, I get it, I’m annoying as hell and while you feel bad for me occasionally, you don’t really want to hang out with me. That’s why it was always essential that I had groups of friends over. The question is how much I want to bottle myself. I can be subdued, ask the right questions, douse the intensity, play the ‘be mysterious’ game, all pretty unhappily. It was pointed out to me recently how easy it is for me to slip in and out of making arguments and discussions simultaneously personal or theoretical/hypothetical. Now that’s yet another flaw I get to police, along with the savior complex, pigeon holing, inability to be apathetic, duty for social good and more I’m forgetting at the moment.

I think my sister captured the meditations on this better than I could:

I actually thought it was really interesting to hear your concerns about how you interact with other people, and talk about how to choose or not choose whether to continue acting in a way they might find annoying. It’s so hard to balance being yourself and conforming to or reflecting the situation you’re in. And I think it takes a good amount of self awareness to get to where you are. I also think it’s shitty that some of these groups have made you feel shitty, though. I realized another factor in your situation might be getting older; energetic positivity is much more widely embraced and followed in idealistic college years, but in masters years it wanes, and in phd programs it dies and becomes reviled. That’s the academic course; I think in so-called RL, it follows a similar trajectory but for different reasons. People get out into the working world, or don’t, and realizes how much it can suck to have and to not have a job. They have to do taxes, sign leases, worry about carpet stains, try to make friends without the support structures they’re used to, etc. And so energy saps away–or is redirected into sterile, accepted gym environments, rather than games and adventures–and world outlooks shift to become cynical and jaded. People begin to compromise on every front, including romantic ones. I think there might be an upswing when they start to have kids and have to get excited about things like Blues Clues and delude themselves into believing their progeny will inherit a world worth inhabiting, and they become interested in making it a world worth their children living in. Maybe that will be your moment again. Who knows.

 

Facebook Friends, False Connections and Social Norms

I noticed a friend ‘defriended’ me the other day on Facebook, which normally wouldn’t be a hugely new or life-shattering event… except that this person happened to be someone who I really like and used to be really close to. It’s not uncommon to lose weak contacts like people I knew in classes or back in high school (with a friends list as big as mine I’ve actually noticed if I make small changes to my profile like politics or relationship status I can lose friends), but this one was different. We had some falling out somewhere over the digital medium in semi-recent history and it got me all upset and thinking about how the act of severing a connection on Facebook could really be a strong statement, especially when they’re far away and FB might be the only viable connection you have to them anymore.

I mean we talk about stalking and whatnot on Facebook but I’ve noticed that many people have a small group of people that they like to watch from afar on Facebook. Maybe that person doesn’t really know them very well or they’re afraid of being confrontational or they don’t even like them that much but they’re interesting – it’s nice to follow their life without having to become directly involved in it. It’s a fake connection though, created by the technology and not by the actual relationship you have with the person.

Anyway a friend of mine noticed and empathized with me because she had been recently defriended too – but by someone she sees occasionally in person. She had no idea why but was worried if there was some sort of problem she didn’t know about. It’s an awfully passive-aggressive way to indicate to someone that you don’t like them. We got to talking about the messages such an action might send and I concluded that hers wasn’t a legitimate concern because the person who defriended her was older (think 40’s) and not a ‘Facebook native’ and therefore couldn’t possibly understand what message he sent her with such an action. My friend, however, I felt definitely knew what kind of damage she would do.

But as I later came to understand, that may not actually be all that accurate. As more people from different countries, generations, and life experiences join Facebook they bring with them new ways of understanding it as a social environment and communication tool. And that includes the meaning of ‘defriending’ – just like society at large Facebook is probably developing a plurality of social norms. Some people take it more seriously and find it more meaningful than others and there may be some variance in immerse (everyday cognizant) use. I still do think that this correlates with age closely but much like the notion of digital natives it’s probably much more of a population than a generation.

The bigger question is what to do about the people who don’t agree to the social contracts and norms established by the youth population who made Facebook huge. How do we get everyone on the same page?

My friend, by the way, did eventually talk to the person who defriended her and figured out it was more done on accident and not intended as an aggressive move. I probably won’t ever hear from the person who dropped me again…